3 Steps for Prioritizing Digital Accessibility in 2022

Team of coworkers gathered around a laptop working on prioritizing digital accessibility.

“Inclusion” is more than just a buzzword in 2022. In a recent survey, 77% of stockholders said it’s important that they hold the companies they invest in accountable for their impact on society, including inequality. Inequality includes failing to consider entire groups of people, like those with disabilities,  in your hiring, marketing, and other business practices. When your content isn’t accessible, it can’t reach people with disabilities and they are excluded. Prioritizing digital accessibility is a best practice for all inclusive businesses.

If that’s not reason enough to make sure your digital content is accessible, consider the fact that the ADA and many state laws legally require accessibility.  Additionally, thousands of lawsuits are filed annually against companies with inaccessible content.  If you haven’t already, make 2022 the year you include everyone by prioritizing digital accessibility.

Step 1: Set accessibility goals by learning about accessibility

The first step to prioritizing digital accessibility for 2022 is to figure out exactly what goals you should set. In order to set those goals, you’ll need to learn more about people with disabilities who will benefit from accessibility. You should also find out what laws and standards your content should meet.

Learn more about people with disabilities

You probably already spend considerable time learning about your target audience- from demographics to shopping habits to website visits. Spend some time learning more about 25% of the US population who have disabilities and require accessible digital content. This demographic has a total disposable income of nearly $500 billion. That number increases significantly when you consider their friends and family as well, who may also avoid companies that don’t consider people with disabilities.  The disability market is comparable to the African American market at $501 billion, and the Hispanic market at $582 billion.

How people with disabilities access digital content

You’ll also need to learn how people with disabilities access digital content. Many use assistive technology such as screen readers, which use digital tags to relay content to the end-user. Without coding those tags into your content, especially for non-text elements and files, assistive technology cannot correctly relay information to the end-user. For example, without alt text describing an image, the assistive technology would simply tell the user there’s an image on the page without any context or explanation of the image. If you’ve ever come across the frustration of a photo on social media or a website failing to load, you can understand how someone might be missing out if they can’t access visual content. 

Likewise, without tagging PDF documents, assistive technology might only tell the end-user the document exists, but might not be able to read any of the text, lists, or tables, or describe images, charts, or other graphics. Sometimes, assistive technology might think the PDF is just a giant image. Learning how assistive technology, particularly screen readers, access your digital content can give you a better understanding of how to build content that meets everyone’s needs. 

Learn what laws and standards you should follow

State and federal digital accessibility requirements

Considering all end-users, including people with disabilities, is the main goal of accessibility, but it’s also a legal requirement. The ADA has often been applied to websites and digital content like PDF. There were more than 3550 ADA digital accessibility lawsuits in 2020 alone, more than 1600 by July of 2021. That doesn’t include state accessibility violations, which rely on individual state accessibility laws. An organization need not be located in a state with strict accessibility laws to be impacted by them. If an end-user in another state with digital accessibility laws cannot access your content, you may face litigation. 

WCAG for digital accessibility compliance

While the ADA and many state laws do require digital accessibility, not all tell you exactly how to achieve compliance. There are simply too many variables on each individual website or piece of digital content. Many court cases apply the internationally accepted guidelines called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to determine if the content meets the “accessible” requirement.

WCAG consists of basic accessibility requirements that ensure everyone can access and use the content. That includes using digital tags, captioning videos, correctly contrasting colors, removing flashing objects, and more. It also asks whether content achieves four basic goals for every user- is the content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust? By addressing those questions, even digital nuances not specifically listed in the rest of the guidelines are addressed. State and federal digital accessibility laws require content to be “accessible.” Ensuring that your content meets WCAG guidelines will result in accessibility.

Step 2: Evaluate where you are now 

Checkers catch the basics

Once you determine what your accessibility goals should be, evaluate your current content and accessibility practices, if any, to determine where you are now. Does your organization have any kind of digital accessibility practices in place? If it does not, and if none of your digital content has been specifically tagged for accessibility, it probably is not accessible. Free, automated accessibility checkers are available online to help you identify some main accessibility issues such as missing tags, captions, and alt text.

Screen readers catch the rest

However, automated checkers can’t identify other significant issues like the accuracy of the tags, whether the information on the page is presented in the correct order, or whether the alt text explains why the image or graphic is relevant to the surrounding content. For example, if an image had alt text that simply said “image,” it would pass an accessibility checker because there is something in the alt text field. However, that alt text isn’t useful or accessible because it doesn’t tell the user what the image is or how it’s contextually relevant. Try using an actual screen reader to listen to digital content read aloud to you as a person with disabilities would. Then you can experience for yourself what accessibility problems an end-user may experience with your content.

Once you determine what content falls short, you can break it down into projects: web pages that need coding, videos that need captions, PDFs that need tags, etc.

Step 3: Make a plan to reach your goals

Take notes from other companies

Now that you have identified what inaccessible content you have and how it can be made accessible,  make a plan to reach your goals. Take a look at other companies that have overcome similar digital accessibility challenges. Their strategies and tools may work for your organization as well. 

Get everyone on board

Encouraging a company-wide culture of accessibility to prioritize accessibility. Upper management can promote the importance of accessibility and make sure all departments are prioritizing digital accessibility.

Break the project into manageable parts and delegate tasks if you’ll be tackling accessibility in-house. Many organizations find that making each content creator responsible for making their own content accessible is the easiest way to become and stay compliant. 

Once you know who will be involved, make a plan to tackle all your inaccessible resources piece by piece.

Get the right tools

Determine what tools you’ll need for the job. The right software makes accessibility much easier. For example, PDF remediation can be a tedious and difficult process if you’re interacting with a complicated tag tree, but partially automated tools can make the job fast and easy while maintaining accuracy. 

 

Prioritizing digital accessibility doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Learn about the people who will benefit from it,  determine what standards you need to follow, and strategize how you will tackle making content accessible to everyone in 2022.

When you’re ready to prioritize accessibility for your PDFs and other digital content, let Equidox help

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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Onix with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries, and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”